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Cisco, Aruba roll out 802.11ac Wave 2 products, but who's buying?

Vendors introducing 802.11ac Wave 2 technology are likely to find that enterprises aren't ready to adopt the latest Wi-Fi standard that requires infrastructure upgrades.

Cisco and Aruba are the latest networking companies to introduce 802.11ac Wave 2 access points that experts say enterprises are unlikely to buy in large numbers for some time.

Cisco's and Aruba's wireless transceivers provide all the benefits of the latest Wi-Fi standard, which include throughputs comparable to wired Internet connections and support for more mobile devices than any wireless standard of the past. Unfortunately, taking full advantage of Wave 2 often requires expensive infrastructure changes few businesses will consider until they use up the bandwidth available from cheaper Wave 1 access points (APs).

"I don't see where Wave 1 has a shorter life-cycle because of Wave 2's pending availability," IDC analyst Nolan Greene said. "Of course, as organizations see more workloads move to wireless, Wave 1 could age faster, but I think we're really in a wait-and-see stage right now."

The fact that Wave 2 will require upgrades on the backend isn't lost on Cisco. The vendor introduced two wireless LAN controllers and two new Catalyst switches alongside a new Aironet AP that will support Wave 2 deployments.

Because Cisco owns so much of the wired network, its approach to Wave 2 is more complete because wired and Wi-Fi is coupled together, said ZK Research analyst Zeus Kerravala.

The Cisco 8540 Service Controller supports 802.11ac Wave 2 for large campus Wi-Fi deployments, while the Cisco 5520 Services Controller was designed with slightly smaller deployments in mind. The 8540 controller can support 6,000 access points and 64,000 clients with up to 40Gbps of throughput. The 5520 will support 1,500 access points and 20,000 clients.

The Cisco Catalyst 3850 10G Series Switch can support 10G downlinks and 10G/40G uplinks. The Catalyst 6840-X switch is based on Cisco's Catalyst 6000 product line. The switch supports up to 2 times 10G/40G uplinks.

The switches will help enterprises get more throughput on Cisco's Wave 2 APs, without replacing the Cat5e and Cat6 cables used in most enterprises, said Rad Sethuraman, Cisco's senior director of product management. "With these additions, we're able to deliver more than a gigabit on the same copper a [customer] had before."

Cisco and Aruba's 802.11ac Wave 2 APs

Aruba's new Wave 2 AP is called the 320 series, while Cisco's is the Aironet 1850. Aruba's 320 series is scheduled for release in the third quarter. The APs will have a list price of $1,395. Cisco hasn't released the list price for the Aironet 1850, which is expected to ship in July.

Cisco and Aruba, a Hewlett-Packard company, are not the first to release Wave 2 products. Meru and Ruckus have released similar transceivers.

All the APs feature multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO). MU-MIMO is an antenna technology that provides support for more mobile devices on a wireless LAN (WLAN). They also take advantage of the wider channels and standardized beamforming techniques of Wave 2 to increase throughput. Wave 2 has a theoretical maximum of 7 gigabits per second, but its unlikely many enterprises could achieve that level of performance.

Wave 1 APs have a theoretical maximum of 1.3 Gbps and cost substantially less than Wave 2 devices. Enterprise can achieve the wireless speeds they need today with Wave 1, so their unlikely to spend the money for Wave 2 for several years, experts say.

In the first quarter of this year, devices supporting Wi-Fi standards before 802.11ac accounted for more than 40% of AP shipments and 55% of revenues worldwide, according to IDC. By next year, 802.11ac devices will dominate the market in shipments and revenues. Education, healthcare and large enterprises are among the major buyers of the technology.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, senior news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter. 

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